Ashes at Headingley: Jason Roy holds key to England reshuffle

England are ready to hand Jason Roy another opportunity to prove himself as an Ashes opener but even head coach Trevor Bayliss believes he is better suited to the middle order.

England's Joe Root, Joe Denly and Jason Roy bat in front of the new stand during the nets session at Headingley, Leeds.
England's Joe Root, Joe Denly and Jason Roy bat in front of the new stand during the nets session at Headingley, Leeds.

Roy averages just nine in five knocks at the head of the innings, having thus far failed to translate his limited-overs brilliance to the five-day format, but is likely to take his role in an unchanged top four in Thursday’s third Specsavers Test at Headingley.

England resisted the temptation to bring in fresh faces by keeping the same 12-man squad after last week’s draw at Lord’s, leaving question marks over the order rather than the personnel.

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For now the expectation is for continuity, with Roy partnering Surrey team-mate Rory Burns, captain Joe Root continuing at three despite two failures at Lord’s and Joe Denly – who began his Test career this winter as opener – up next.

But Bayliss was candid in his assessment of the situation, admitting it may be a temporary arrangement.

“We think we’ve got the best seven batters available to us at the moment in England... whether we can change it round and make that (order) any better, I’m not sure, but we’ll certainly have a discussion about it,” he said.

“There’s one or two batting spots in the wrong positions but we’re trying to do the right thing by the team.

“Personally, I think Roy is a middle-order player but we’ve had a set middle order – yes, some of the combos have changed – but the one spot available was at the top.

“Yes, it hasn’t worked yet but he can easily come out and blast a quick hundred. Long-term he’s more middle-order, he’d feel more comfortable there, and he’s doing a job for the team.

“You’d have to ask him exactly how he’s feeling but it’s obviously not quite the same as opening the batting in a white-ball game.”

Even with that in mind, two more failures at Headingley would surely be the end of the experiment and the left-hander could be asked to swap with Denly if that occurs.

Root is sure to stay at first drop for the time being, having requested a promotion he previously shied away from at the start of the series.

The engine room of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow could conceivably come out in any order at five, six and seven –depending on the former’s workload with the ball and the latter’s exertions at wicketkeeper, but Bayliss realises that fluidity may not be a permanent solution.

“I’d like to see the guys stick to a position and everyone becomes comfortable but it is one of the difficulties,” he said.

“The all-rounders having to back up after bowling or keeping is one of the challenges and exactly what the answer is...we’re trying to work it out. There might come a time when we have to put a foot down and say, ‘No, this is what’s happening. Like it or lump it’.”

While the batting continues to provide more questions than answers, Jofra Archer’s incredible debut performance has undoubtedly taken the pace bowling to the next level.

Bayliss, from New South Wales, knows all about the Australian love affair with quick bowlers and is fascinated to see their reaction to Archer’s rapid spells.

“The Aussies have not been backward in coming forward in that respect in years gone by and it will be good to see the shoe on the other foot,” he said.

“It will add a different dynamic to how they play.

“From an English point of view, it is good that it is experiencing what the English batters did facing (Brett) Lee, (Mitchell) Johnson, (Dennis) Lillee and (Jeff) Thomson. It is not impossible to play that but it gets your attention.”

England’s prospects of making it 1-1 in Leeds improved with the news that Australia’s best player, Steve Smith, would miss the match as he continues his recovery from concussion.

Bayliss knows Smith well from their time together at New South Wales and, although he recognises the advantage of taking on the tourists without their talisman, is not expecting a simple ride.

Marnus Labuschagne helped his side save the Test with 59 after coming in as a concussion substitute and will be back on duty from the start this time.

“If you take out the best batter in the world it is probably (beneficial), but as his replacement showed in the last match, he’s more than capable,” said Bayliss.

“Win or lose, this Ashes is not going to get down to one player on either side. Yes you’ve got your good players, the ones that do well, but it’s a team effort.”

Australia’s head coach Justin Langer has told his bowlers not to let their egos draw them into a battle of the bouncers at Headingley.

“We know what our plans are to beat England,” he said. “What we’re not going to do is get caught up an an emotional battle of who’s going to bowl the quickest bouncers,” he said. “We’re here to win the Test match, not to see how many helmets we can hit. We keep talking about it ... you’ve got to play on skill, not emotion, and it’s hard for young players, even senior players.”